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First Children’s Activity!


It’s been awhile since I’ve brought up the issue of paying for organized kid’s activities.

Our twins are now a little over 3.5 years old. They’ll turn 4 this June. And, to date, we have never enrolled them in a single organized children’s activity. We started our debt-reduction mission nearly 2 years ago (when they were only 18 months old) and, at the time, I didn’t feel like they were missing out on anything. I have several friends who’ve enrolled their kids in all kinds of activities even from infancy (e.g., MyGym, tot & me dance/gymnastics, swim, etc.). But at that young age, I preferred to save the money and really didn’t think we were missing out on anything.

Last April I mentioned that I was seriously considering enrolling the girls in swim lessons. At the time, however, they were attending the JCC for childcare. Over the summer the JCC did free swim lessons as part of their daily curriculum, so that satisfied me. However, looking back, the summer swim lessons weren’t the best. It was taught by certified lifeguards, but it included entire class groups of about 18 kids at a time, so a good deal of the time kids were just sitting on the steps waiting for their turn. There wasn’t a lot of actual instruction on a per-student basis. That was totally fine at the time (plus it was free!), but it means our kids still don’t know even the basics of water safety (e.g., how to grab the edge if they fall in, how to float, etc.).

Given our upcoming Cruise and all the time we’ll be spending around water, swim lessons were high on my radar at the beginning of the year of something I wanted to look into. At the end of January I did a lot of research and found a swim school nearby that’s reasonably priced and has great reviews.  I officially enrolled the girls 2 weeks ago and their first lesson was this past Saturday.

The girls LOVED it!

They’re in classes that are capped at 4 people (though their first class only had 3 kids) so there’s tons of individual attention. The instructor was very friendly and made the lesson so fun.

We have 12 lessons between now and our cruise sail date and, although I’m not expecting full swimmers by any means, I’m hopeful that will be enough time for them to learn basic life-saving measures so that I’ll feel a little more comfortable around so much water on our cruise.

The total cost for one lesson per week is $65/month (per child). This seemed to be a pretty competitive rate in our area. By comparison, I saw some rates that were literally double this amount.

But I do have a question for readers. Now that we’re opening this door (the door of children’s activities)….how do you account for it in your budget? I was going to include it as an “Entertainment” line item, but it almost seems like it warrants its own category. Thoughts?

Also….this just opened the door to a whole world of children’s activities. Soccer, Dance, Swim, Karate, Gymnastics, Oh my!  I can just envision them in little tutus or soccer cleats and my heart wants to burst!

I am determined, at this point, to keep our activities to a maximum of one at a time. I do NOT want to be running them to a different activity every night of the week! Plus our budget (and my time/sanity) wouldn’t allow it! But it’s already making me look forward to whatever activity comes next. They’re still young so there’s plenty of time, but it’s so much fun seeing the excitement in a child’s face as they’re exposed to something new. I could definitely see myself (if I weren’t on the debt-reduction mission) going ahead and enrolling them in multiple activities at a time.

Parents – any experience with swim classes? How does this rate compare to what you’ve paid in the past? What activities do you enroll your child(ren) in? How do you account for children’s activities in your budget?


  • Reply Marie |

    I mark them as education. They are learning a skill. We put a high priority on these for our children as the lack of PE is pretty huge out here. 30 minutes once a week is what they get and they will get none at all in middle school. Plus watching them learn and refine their skills teaches them to develop mastery at a level school doesn’t really offer. It has boosted their self-confidence. I recommend only trying 3 or 4 activities and then sticking with one longer term that they prefer.

    If you want to try gymnastics Tumbleweeds gymnastics runs a living social deal yearly during May that makes a session about half price. https://www.livingsocial.com/cities/85-tucson/deals/1464056-6-gymnastics-classes-for-ages-3-and-older

  • Reply Ms. Mintly @ MintlyBlog |

    My daughter is 6 and we use the “Kids Activities” category in Mint, which is helpful for me. I think it’s worth breaking it out of the “entertainment” category. (My daughter does piano and Girl Scouts right now.)

    In reading Marie’s comment, I think it’s interesting how different states are from one another – in our middle schools, our kids get a half our of PE every day (not saying it’s actually 30 minutes of active time, though), and they cut out the arts in order to make that happen (it’s mandated by the state here).

  • Reply Walnut |

    I would call this a kids activity. As far as expanding the scope to other activities, I really like the one activity at a time rule. I also think it is important to keep perspective on what value kids are learning from each activity. I think it’s just as value added for you and your husband to take your kids to the park and play with the soccer ball as it is for kids to participate in organized soccer. The same can be said for dancing in the living room and tumbling in the back yard. When the girls get older and show aptitude and focus for one particular activity or another, by all means revisit the conversation.

    • Reply Ashley |

      You make a good point. I think this is particularly true given that they get to see other kids at preschool (otherwise I’d argue for the social aspects of some of these activities). That being said, I could also see there being additional respect and comradarie learned in an organized team sport (though that may not be a big deal until older/more advanced stage of practice)

  • Reply Klm |

    Our kids are younger than yours so we haven’t figured out the budget yet, but for such a small class that seems pretty competitive. If they actually teach some swimming basics beyond just getting comfortable in the water, it’s even better.

  • Reply Angie |

    I have a 6, 5, and 3 year old all in activities. Basketball (which is almost over), and tap/ballet for the girls, but they’re in different classes. So we’re booked M, T, and W evenings – but for you it will be nice to have them in the same class for now!

    We have a separate category for “Son Activities” and “Daughters Activities.” Because once you pay the fee, you’ll have to account for equipment, shoes, uniforms, costumes, pictures (!!!), recital tickets, etc. My kids have done soccer, dance, basketball, t-ball, and tae kwon do, but I agree with you – each only gets one activity at a time… although my husband and I really want our kids to learn an instrument, and so we may start springing for piano lessons or something for them.

    It’s like a parental arms’ race, sometimes. I know kids in choir, soccer, basketball, theatre arts – all at the same time! I can’t physically do it! I would need to hire a driver for that! And don’t get me started on the all-day weekend tournaments…

    • Reply Ashley |

      Wow! Just thinking of the logistics of how that would work makes me tired! I don’t know how some parents do it!

  • Reply Mary |

    First off, I have been quietly following along in my corner of the world. Hats off to the mountains you have moved in the last 2 years.

    The swim rate is a competitive rate especially for such a small grouping. The only place that we have found less than that is our local YMCA but there are 8 children with 2 instructors for 3-4 yo. Time spent individually doesn’t equal the 4:1 ratio as there seems to a lot more crowd control for the second teacher.

    I have an 8 yo son and 4 yo daughter. My son plays a sport every season and is on a baseball team that is a step up from rec league, so he has practice for that 1 night a week during the off season. If we have a week that there is an extra practice or game, it’s too much for him as he misses just playing with his friends…which almost always is a pick up game of the sport season we are in. My daughter is in the try everything stage to find her interest. She is allowed to pick one activity at a time. I have been trying to string along groupon deals and guide her based on those, since her interest so far has been about 8 weeks/activity:). I figured out the average cost of the activities she is trying and my son’s sports fees, as well as uniform, shoes, etc, and budget it as a fixed expense monthly for Kids Activities.

    I think starting around 3-4 is great as the kids learn what’s available, what they like and don’t like. They can explore non school environments and how to get along with other kids in somewhat less structured activities.

    Good luck!

  • Reply Sarah |

    I categorized them as Children:Activities. I then had categories for stuff, education, clothing, etc. Don’t overschedule them.

  • Reply Katie |

    Great choice and timing with the cruise!! I swear the preschool photography business is swarming on all these kids in various uniforms, always looking adorable. Just something to think about, but when you budget make sure to factor in uniforms (price all the way down to shoes), gas, team snacks, and any fees too. Ask as many questions as you can up front about practice schedule (this can cause more eating out), game days, fundraisers (money pit of you-know-where), etc. If there ever was something to put off, this would be it. A ton of local high schools offer cheer or various sports clinics for preschoolers that are one or two days and are super economical without the commitment.

  • Reply AT |

    Stay away from ballet to save the budget. it’s unbelievable how much those dance studios can suck out of a family budget for costumes, lessons, jazz lessons, hip hop lessons, then they need fancy shoes, fancy shoes in colors to match the costume, worn once. My sister has two in dance and it’s ridiculous but she can’t say no. She’s up to her eyeballs in soul sucking debt, but “it’s for the girls.”

    Gymnastics is probably just as bad. If you have passed on any height genes, look elsewhere, preferably to a non-profit organization like youth soccer.

    • Reply ~D~ |

      Not always, though! Sometimes you can get creative. Single mom here with two teenagers and a TIGHT budget. My daughter has done dance for years, starting out with 1 class, then 2, then 4 and this year, 5. She is in ballet, jazz, hiphop, junior pointe and senior pointe (this is her first year taking pointe, so she takes the junior class for experience while she does the senior pointe with those in her age group). There is no way I could ever afford this – we could barely do 2 classes when we paid out of pocket. But she is old enough now to be an assistant teacher for the preschool/elementary classes and she gets a trade-off, class for class. So she takes 5 classes, assists in 5 classes, and we have no tuition. (This is only 2 nights per week as well – one night for assisting, the following night are her classes)

      Yes, 5 classes is a lot, but she is a dancer through and through and would LIVE at the studio if given the choice. And yes, we still have to pay for shoes, pictures, costumes and recital tickets, but the teacher tries to keep prices very reasonable and it is totally worth it to be able to nurture my daughter’s love of dance. It’s a great deal for 5 classes! Between shoes, costumes, pictures and tickets, I will estimate it’s about $500 for the entire year, which, for 5 classes is not bad! She gets to be in several different dances at the recital and last year, even had a solo. I credit it to her being an incredibly healthy (emotionally and physically) young woman. And she adores her dance teacher. I honestly just say enough about the good it has done her to be involved in this.

      Anyway, my point is, don’t ever write something off, because you just might miss your child finding their life’s passion! Get creative and see how you can lower costs in any way before you decide not to try something. Dance is my daughter’s emotional outlet and as a teenager, it’s been a lifesaver for her.

  • Reply Alexandria |

    Though we didn’t have much money when our kids were smaller, swim lessons was such a priority in terms of safety. Other than that, we had great programs through our community center. The one class I remember both kids doing was some kind of “mommy and me” class. They just LOVED it. It might have been $5 per class, or something in that range. They weren’t in preschool though, so I can’t say I would have bothered if they were in preschool or daycare.

    With age, it ebbs and flows. My oldest wants to do everything and my youngest wants to do nothing, so it works out pretty well. Right now, they just happen to not be in any activities. Though I’d say that I draw the line at not running around like crazy, I have been willing to have my eldest in 3 activities at once because our youngest was in -0- activities.

  • Reply Hope |

    I know I come from a different perspective since much of my kids activities I consider part of their schooling ie music, sports activities, even robotics so most of my kids have been in 1-3 activities at a time. I have been blessed to bargin or barter for the majority of the on-going activities – tae kwon do, gymnastics, etc.
    But what I will add is that…many places offer a multi-child discount and many will work with you on the cost if you ask. Up until age 8, my little kids did only activities they could do together to save me on the crazy schedule part. (The exception was gymnastics but they did start that together.)
    I agree with others that 1) have them try an assortment of activities, 2) some kids are great on teams and some are not, 3) there is a lot more to these activities than the activity itself. Kids learn about team work, respect, compromise, dealing with differences and so much more in addition to just learning to kick the ball or swim the stroke.
    I am a huge advocate for child sports involvement…because I know first hand how it affects a child who doesn’t get those opportunities (my twins.) They will even voice their opinions now as they see the littles at their activities with “I wish…” and “If I had…” Starting at 12, almost 13, has made it pretty much impossible for them and makes them uncomfortable when people bring it up, especially since they are big kids so would probably have been great at some of the team sports many play at their age (not a certainty, of course, but they don’t have the coordination or muscle control to catch up at this point.)
    (Note: this is my experience with my foster/adoptive children, I know it’s not everyone’s so certainly not saying other’s couldn’t, but the twins came in with not enough muscle mass to hold their knees in place due to a sedentary life so a bit of a different beginning than what I hope is normal.)

    • Reply Ashley |

      Wow, I had no idea about the twins! You coming into their lives, I’m sure, has been the biggest blessing for them (and probably vice versa, too)! I definitely think a lot of these activities are really important to build well-rounded kids. I can’t wait until ours are a little older and able to have more of these experiences! I’ve already had little fantasy/day-dreams about us all taking a guitar class together (I play minimally well and have a couple hand-me-down guitars we could use. It would be fun to have some formal tutelage, all together). : )

  • Reply Heidi |

    I totally agree with only 1 sport at a time. I have a 9 year old daughter that has tried many different sports since she was 3. I wasn’t exposed to any sport as a child, so I wanted her to be able to try many to see where her interest(s) was. The past 2 years it has been swim team. She is quite short, so had a disadvantage in many team sports. Even at a beginner level, coaches want to mainly use the best players. She loves swimming because it’s a team and individual sport. Her biggest competition is herself. Plus, I figured knowing how to swim really well is a much better life skill, even as an adult, than being a slugger at the ball diamond or being able to make a half court shot 🙂

    The rate you’re paying for lessons is wonderful for such a low student:teacher ratio.

  • Reply Karen |

    I have four sons, ages 18-28, and they’ve been involved with a number of activities throughout the years. One thing that you and your husband might want to think about is what is important to you that your children learn? For example, for us we wanted our sons to have an appreciation for music, to learn to work with others, to learn service to others, and to develop a relationship with Jesus.

    All of our sons took band class beginning in 6th grade for 2 years (the first year offered at our schools), and while there was only 1 who chose to stay in band through high school, they all learned to play an instrument and they each have respect and appreciation for music. All of them played a variety of sports (such as Little League and soccer), where they had to learn to get along with others – both peers and adults with various skills and/or coaching styles – one for 2 years and the others for several years each, and two played high school football. Three earned the rank of Eagle Scout. They all were involved with church activities such as weekly services and summer camps, and two became involved in church youth leadership. In other words, my husband and I guided them in general, but they were allowed to choose which specific activities worked for them. (We started ours at age 5/kindergarten, mainly because that’s how old we thought they had to be to start T-ball. It wasn’t until our oldest began that we realized he could have started sooner. As it turned out though, 5 was soon enough for all of us with the exception of formal swimming lessons. As someone else mentioned though, there can be a detriment for some if they are much older when you get started).

    As your daughters grow and are exposed to various events they’ll naturally show a bent toward activities and certain skills that they enjoy. (One thing to consider for mom, though – some activities will require minimum participation on your part, but others nearly require you to be involved as much as the kids!).

So, what do you think ?